What the 1970s oil crisis taught us

Due in part to the 1973 oil crisis, government agencies emphasized energy efficiency in many sectors.

By Bill Kosik, PE, CEM, BEMP, LEED AP BD+C, HP Data Center Facilities Consulting, C March 23, 2015

Some of the seminal events that acted as catalysts to jump-start energy efficiency improvements in buildings, both residential and commercial, stem from incidents that happened far from the shores of the United States. As a result, federal and state governments (and the general public) were exposed firsthand to the consequences of unstable worldwide energy supplies. Arguably the most infamous example of this hit the United States in 1973. And it hit hard.

The 1973 oil crisis started when the members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) started an oil embargo in response to world political events. Six months later, the prices of oil imported into the U.S. rose from $3 per barrel to nearly $12. In addition to massive cost increases for gasoline and heating oil, this event brought on a decade of high inflation where prices of energy and various material commodities rose greatly, triggering fears of an era of resource scarcity with economic,political, and security stresses. From 1973 to 1974, residential fuel oil rose from $0.75/million Btu to$1.82/million Btu, a 143% increase. Electricity costs also spiked: from $5.86/million Btu in 1973 to$7.42/million Btu in 1974. This was a 27% increase in electricity cost in just 1 year.

The 1973 oil crisis is not the only tumultuous event that has threatened energy supplies in the U.S., but this particular event sparked the greatest debate on energy efficiency in the built environment in the U.S.to date. Also, during this time the unsafe levels of water- and air-borne pollution attributed to the extraction and production of energy were making headlines, putting pressure on private industry and government to develop laws that would protect the welfare of U.S. citizens, and guarantee a cost-effective and secure source of energy. These programs became part of a greater effort, which included the industrial sector, appliances, electronics, and electricity generation.

Bill Kosik is a distinguished technologist at HP Data Center Facilities Consulting. He is the leader of "Moving toward Sustainability," which focuses on the research, development, and implementation of energy-efficient and environmentally responsible design strategies for data centers. Kosik collaborates with clients, developing innovative design strategies for cooling high-density environments, and creating scalable cooling and power models.